A European consortium of companies and research groups has boosted the efficiency of silicon solar cells, proven the sustainability of solar electricity and defined clear ways to low cost. Within the framework of CrystalClear, a large European project on the development of low-cost, highly efficient silicon solar modules, a consortium of companies and research groups has reached important milestones.
Solar panels are becoming an increasingly cheap and efficient way to produce electricity.
At a research centre near Frankfurt, scientists are working on an EU-funded project to improve conversion efficiency from sun light to energy.
“This is a solar cell from our module, the world’s most efficient when it comes to energy conversion,” says Axel Metz, Head of Research and Development into solar cells at Schott Solar.
“Conversion efficiency is the fraction of sun light converted into electricity, and with an efficiency rate exceeding 18 percent, this is the most efficient device we have developed so far,” he added.
To enhance the efficiency of solar cells, researchers have had to look at every stage of the complex high-tech production chain – from raw materials to the completed module.
“The solar cells we make are produced from multi-crystalline wafer material: first, we have to build the emitter structure on the front of the wafer, then we apply the anti-reflective coating; the other side is coated with aluminium. Then we put a metal grid on the front of the wafer to collect electrons,” said Klaus Wangemann, Vice President at Schott Solar.
By improving the quality of materials and optimising production workflow, European engineers have reached the physical limits of solar cell technology.
Their goal is to rapidly implement this know-how on an industrial scale.
“This is why we put an emphasis on using production-grade equipment for our R&D. This makes it possible to rapidly transfer our research onto production lines and achieve measurable profits,” said Klaus Wangemann.
And it is not just about cheaper costs for the consumer. These innovative solar panels are greener and have a longer lifespan, which means they are more sustainable as an energy source.
“Many people think that with photovoltaic modules you don’t get a return on the energy used to produce them, but that’s not true, as you can see with this project: you get a return on energy in less than two years, even here in cloudy Germany,” said Axel Metz.